The Paradox Of The Heap Asks "When Is A Heap Of Sand No Longer A Heap?"

When is a heap not a heap? No, this is isn't a trick question, or the setup to a lame joke. This question is at the crux of the paradox of the heap, which is also known as the sorites paradox. The paradox goes something like this: Imagine a heap of sand. Take away one grain of sand, and you'd probably still call it a heap. Keep taking away one grain of sand at a time. At what point is it no longer a heap? What is a heap anyway?! We don't even know anymore...

The paradox of the heap is an unsolved problem of philosophy, meaning there is no single, correct way to approach it and there can be many different acceptable solutions. Let's explain why it is a paradox. If you consider these two propositions to be true—one grain of sand is not a heap, and adding a single grain of sand to something that is not a heap will not create a heap—then no matter how many grains of sand you to add to something, it will never result in a heap. This is paradoxical because if you keep adding sand, you will eventually end up with a heap of sand. The problem also lies in the varying definitions of "heap"—what does your definition of a heap mean? Do heaps even exist? Ponder this philosophical idea about language in the video below.

The Paradox Of The Heap

Explained simply in 90 seconds.

Is the Birthday Paradox A Paradox?

It's a statistic that is hard to believe.

The Potato Paradox

This is a paradox that can actually be solved.

Written by Curiosity Staff November 3, 2016

Curiosity uses cookies to improve site performance, for analytics and for advertising. By continuing to use our site, you accept our use of cookies, our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.